A special exhibition of records of Korean diplomats dispatched to the US during the Joseon era is underway at the National Palace Museum of Korea, marking the 140th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Korea and the US.
The exhibition, "Diplomats in Gat: The Story of the Joseon Legation in Washington, D.C." has on display recordings of diplomatic activities by Pak Chung-yang (1841-1905), the first minister plenipotentiary to the US, and his entourage that went to the US in 1887, the first such dispatch in Korean history.
A highlight of the exhibition are the archival records by Yi Sang-jae (1850-1927), a secretary with the first Korean legation in the US. The records were designated as state-registered cultural heritage in May.
The records consist of materials related to diplomacy that Yi compiled, as well as a collection of letters Yi wrote to his family. Life as a Korean legation in the US is documented in detail by Yi.
Entering the exhibition space, visitors feels as though passing through the Old Korean Legation building in the US. Some spaces at the exhibition are designed to help viewers picture jeongdang, the central office of the Korean legation, and gaekdang, a reception room for guests. A video playing at the gaekdang space shows Pak and his entourage engaging in diplomacy over the course of the year.
The prologue introduces the activities of Bobingsa, the first official Korean delegation dispatched to the US a year after the Korea-US Treaty of 1882.
The main sections of the exhibition focus on Pak's journey to the US and the diplomatic entourage's activities after their arrival in Washington in 1888.
The sections also shed light on modern technology introduced to Korea through maps that mark postal, telecommunication and traffic networks newly set up during the time of the Korean Empire (1897-1910). Photos of the royal palace with electric lamps and streetcars, as well as US newspapers and magazines at the time, are also on view.
The exhibition ends with the second Korean Legation Building on Logan Circle in Washington. The building was taken over by Japan in 1910 following Japan's annexation of Korea. The Cultural Heritage Administration and the National Trust for Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Korea purchased the building from private owners in 2012 and the building was opened to the public in 2018 as the Old Korean Legation building.
The exhibition is also available in early November on the Cultural Heritage Administration's YouTube channel as a curator-guided tour. Partial virtual reality clips will be available at the museum's website by the end of this month.
The museum's exhibition runs through Dec. 13.